Child pornography, cyberbullying, online piracy--these are real-world problems that need solutions. But does legislating them away work?
You may think what your state capital or what Capitol Hill is up to is boring and not worth keeping tabs on. But see if you don't get your juices flowing after reading how your tech freedoms could be reined in by some of the dumb bills we've pinpointed in this story.
If lawmakers don’t think through the implications of the legislation they create, they just muck things up further. In fact, this slew of bills at the national and state levels--as well as several international treaty proposals in the works--are outright stupid.
You should be concerned about some of these proposed changes to U.S. law--how will they infringe upon your privacy? And note that a couple of them are in negotiations behind closed doors without public input at all.
H.R. 1981: Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act of 2011
The Legislation: If passed, this legislation could force any business offering paid Internet access--airports, hotels, coffee shops, and ISPs--to keep records of users’ online activities, so that if the government ever wants to inspect them, it can.
Why It's Terrible: Most people want to keep kids safe, but having the government spy on everyone who uses the Internet is not the answer. You’d think there would be other ways to catch perverts that don’t involve such a frightening infringement on the privacy of innocent people.
Status: H.R.1981 is out of committee; it has been placed on the calendar and is slated for discussion in the U.S. House of Representatives at some point.
Why You Should Care: Don’t let the title on this one fool you. H.R. 1981, if made into law, will let the government spy on and keep records of everything you do online.
Hawaii H.B.2288: Hawaiian Data Retention Bill
The Legislation: H.B.2288 would mandate that any company that provides Internet access in Hawaii--not only ISPs, but coffee shops, libraries and workplaces--keep two years of usage records, including the sites users visited and the IP addresses used.
Why It's Terrible: We’re not talking about the long-term tracking of people suspected of a crime, but everyone who uses the Web in the entire state of Hawaii. Imagine if all that data got into the wrong hands or could be used against people in some way.
Status: The politician who proposed the bill, Rep. Kymberly Pine, an Oahu Republican and the House minority floor leader, backed down from the bill, and it's been tabled.
Why You Should Care: The Electronic Frontier Foundation, whose motto is "Defending Your Rights in the Digital World," says H.B.2288 “is one of the most poorly drafted pieces of data retention legislation” that it has ever seen.
New York State S.6779 and A.8688
The Legislation: These bills require a website administrator, upon request, to remove any anonymous comments unless the person who posted it “agrees to attach his or her name to the post and confirms his or her IP address, legal name, and home address.” It also requires that websites make visible in any section where comments are posted a contact number or e-mail address that people can use to put through removal requests.
Why It's Terrible: According to EFF analyst Rebecca Jeschke, these bills are flatly unconstitutional. “We have a First amendment right to speak anonymously and certainly people who host their own websites can decide that they only want people to use their real names…But what you can’t do is have the government force people to speak using their real names. We have a history of anonymous speech here in the U.S. from The Federalist Papers through to today.”
Status: Both bills are still in committee.
Why You Should Care: Yes, folks who comment online can be rude and cyberbullying is a problem, but imagine how important discourse on a myriad of topics would decrease if people had to associate their names with them.
Trans Pacific Partnership
What It Is: U.S. negotiators are pushing for copyright measures far more restrictive than currently required by international treaties. According to the EFF, “The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a secretive, multi-nation trade agreement that threatens to extend restrictive intellectual property laws across the globe.”
Why It's Terrible: It’s even worse than ACTA (the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) and puts intellectual property governance in the hands of lobbyists. The EFF says the TPP will have a broad impact on citizens’ rights, the future of the Internet’s global infrastructure, and global innovation. And again, this one is being forged largely without input from the public.
Status: The next round of TPP negotiations will be held in San Diego, California, on July 2-10.
Why You Should Care: SOPA backers such as the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), plus plenty of other corporate entities, are behind the TPP. For more ugly details about the TPP, visit the EFF, where you can use an automated action alert to tell your congressional representatives that you’re against the agreement.
DMCA: Digital Millennium Copyright Act
The Legislation: This one isn’t new, but it’s bad enough to deserve a mention. The DMCA made it illegal to produce and share technology or services that circumvent digital rights management (DRM) technologies that keep you from using digital content in ways that content providers didn’t intend.
Why It's Terrible: Instead of working against people stealing copyrighted content, DMCA is often used against consumers, scientists, and legitimate competitors. For instance, in 2009 Google said that more than half of the takedown notices it had received under the DMCA were sent by businesses targeting competitors and that more than one third were not valid copyright claims.
Status: The DMCA became law in 1998.
Why You Should Care: Clearly the DMCA didn’t do away with content pirating, or we wouldn’t still see Hollywood trying to push legislation like SOPA or ACTA.
Next: More bad bills (CISPA, SOPA, PIPA, and more).